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A leaner, cleaner Mitsubishi Outlander fights for a place in the crossover ranks

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Mitsubishi means different things to different people. For one group, it means the competition-bred Lancer Evolution.

For another, it stands for utilitarian off-roaders. There was also, until earlier this century, a range of ‘Space’ cars – Wagon, Star and Runner – offering various levels of above-average interior room.

The Outlander is offered with a diesel engine and a choice of automatic or manual transmissions

And then there’s the Mitsubishi Outlander, in some ways a combination of all and none of the above, all at the same time.

Traditionally it has been underpinned by a Lancer's transmission, yet it is capable of towing and features seven seats.

It’s a compromise car and a jack of all trades, and if any car sums up the whole of what Mitsubishi is about, it is the Outlander.

And never more so than now. Mitsubishi is focusing in a big way on environmental responsibility, and there’s no car in its range that epitomises that more than this new SUV. It is lower-powered, lighter and cleaner than its predecessor.

So how well does all that affect its ability to cope with everything that life is likely to throw at it? Read on to find out.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Mitsubishi Outlander front grille

Mitsubishi’s approach to renewing the Mitsubishi Outlander is sensible, mature and single-minded. This new model is slightly shorter and lower than the previous one, but most importantly it is 100kg lighter, following a structural redesign of the all-steel body-in-white.

All models of the Outlander come with MMC’s ‘clean diesel’ 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel, which is now Euro 6 emissions compliant. It makes more low-end torque than it did thanks to changes to the valve timing and turbocharger. Interestingly, it’s less powerful than it used to be: 147bhp, whereas before it produced 174bhp.

All but the base GX1s and GX2s come with 18in rims

But with that deficit offset against the more accessible torque and the lower kerb weight, the new Outlander is, says MMC, only marginally slower than the old version and still competitive with its rivals

The big claim is on efficiency. In a class where fuel economy in the 40s is considered pretty reasonable, the Outlander combines intelligent four-wheel drive with around 50mpg and CO2 emissions as low as 140g/km. At least, that’s the claim of some manual versions.

Mitsubishi’s six-speed torque converter automatic gearbox replaces the dual-clutch ‘SST’ gearbox found in the old two-pedal Outlander. It’s a significant change that means new Outlander owners get the benefits of torque multiplication, off road and when towing, that SST-equipped Outlander owners missed, and with only a small efficiency penalty.

The four-wheel drive system is, as it was, controlled by an electronically operated clutch, and its chassis is made up of MacPherson struts at the front and multi-links at the back. The struts have new top mounts and are connected to a new subframe, while at the rear the links have been redesigned for greater wheel travel and less unsprung mass.

Both changes, says Mitsubishi, contribute to enhanced ride quality in particular.

INTERIOR

Mitsubishi Outlander dashboard

Crossovers like the Mitsubishi Outlander – due to their popularity, size and manufacturer competition for a share of a rare growth market – have become the recipients of ever more stylish interiors in recent years.

Not that you’d know it by sitting in the Mitsubishi Outlander, however. Even if you opt for the range-topping model, with the full leather trim, glossy black dashboard inserts and metallic highlights, there is no disguising the wanton lack of imagination here. 

Those seeking decent kit levels should opt for GX3 spec

Mitsubishi does at least provide a functional environment that’s easy to get to grips with. From the gated cul-de-sac of a gear selector to the extra-large buttons to disengage the parking sensors and traction control, the Outlander’s inner workings are instantly decipherable.

Things get a bit more fiddly when it comes to the slightly obtuse Multi Communication System (which is standard fit in GX5 trim models), but even here there are shortcut buttons to avoid any confusion.

The re-engineered third row of seats is similarly straight to the point. The 50/50 split sprung chairs (replacing the old bench) rise from their flush position in the boot floor at the prod of a lever.

Thanks to the generous length of the load bay – 1.85m with both sets of seats folded – and 250mm of slide adjustment in the second row, legroom in the rearmost seats compares favourably with that of rivals. But they remain primarily seats for children.

Meanwhile, tall second-row occupants will find themselves comfortable only when the seatbacks are reclined slightly and their heads are parked in a cove cut into the roofline. With the third row folded away, there’s a 950mm-long load space, which translates into a competitive 591 litres of luggage capacity.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Mitsubishi Outlander rear quarter

The Mitsubishi Outlander is slower than the previous generation, but it certainly isn't slow. It's 0-60mph times are about average for a medium-size 4x4.

What MMC has realised is that little of that actually matters much. Most Outlander owners will care a great deal more that their new 4x4 is rated to tow two tonnes on a braked trailer – more than an equivalent Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V – and that, broadly speaking, it’s a strong performer with bountiful low-down lugging power.

The Outlander is predictable and benign

All models come with Mitsubishi's 2.2-litre diesel engine and buyers can choose from a manual or an automatic transmission.

If you opt for the six-speed automatic, instead of the conventional and unobtrusive six-speed manual, then the spacing of ratios in the gearbox takes some getting used to.

The gearing seems very short indeed as you pull away – so much so that you wonder how noisy your motorway cruise is going to be. As it turns out, fifth and sixth are a lot taller than the other gears, so it’s not so noisy.

There is a bit of a hole between fourth and fifth, but you’re never really aware of it with the automatic gearbox left to shift by itself, which it does smoothly and intelligently. But in manual mode – towing up a long motorway incline, say – you could find yourself caught in that hole. And once caught, you’d certainly notice the Outlander’s disdain for operating at high crank speeds.

Having said that, mechanical refinement elsewhere is quite impressive – not because the cabin is particularly well isolated from the engine, but because the engine is fairly quiet to begin with.

Running a compression ratio of 14.9:1, Mitsubishi’s aluminium four-pot diesel may not be the quietest in the class, but its combustion certainly seems softer and less clattery than many. 

RIDE & HANDLING

Mitsubishi Outlander cornering

The original Mitsubishi Outlander was called Airtrek in Japan, because its makers wanted to nurture the idea that its SUV was light-footed, nimble and free as a bird.

The same concept – the idea of that gently adventurous, easy-going dynamic – has been used to sell crossover 4x4s for the past decade. Unfortunately, even if Mitsubishi understands the formula, it can’t quite perfect its implementation here.

The Outlander rides softly at low speeds

Given the firm’s heritage and outlook, it’s no surprise that the new Outlander feels better set up to escape up and over a motorway embankment than progress nonchalantly down the carriageway.

Most cars in the class – particularly those we consider to be at the top – wear ruggedness only as an affectation, but Mitsubishi still clearly believes in the concept of a big-boned, high-sided and robust utility vehicle.

Which isn’t to say that the new model is devoid of acceptable road manners. Settle into its lope, get to grips with the meaty feedback from a comparatively small steering wheel and the car’s relatively low kerb weight and soft low-speed ride are just about apparent in a largely benign experience. 

The difference is that, against a backdrop of increasingly cultured competition, the Outlander conveys little sophistication. Despite its standard four-wheel drive system (see ‘Under the skin’, below), the Outlander’s Eco driving mode usually only troubles the front tyres with power.

A sense of simplicity pervades: one part primitive function, three parts mechanical durability. This suits it well enough on unmade roads, but on a testing B-road the handling can get polarised.

The car tends to adopt either an unremarkable plod or an unbalanced higher-speed fluster, and it isn’t easy to find a happy medium in between. Leaning untidily on modest grip levels and thumping through potholes are also unwelcome traits in a modern crossover.

All in all, the Outlander could use a little more ‘air’ and a little less ‘trek’

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Mitsubishi Outlander

The less expensive models in the Mitsubishi Outlander range represent good value. You can’t get a diesel Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4 – with four driven wheels, at least – for anything near the price of the basic Mitsubishi.

If you want the most kit for your money, opt for the top-of-the-line GX5 Outlander. It comes with a lane-keeping assist system, adaptive cruise control, a decent sat-nav, DAB radio, heated leather seats and more as standard. Plus there are seven seats, of course. 

4WD Eco mode helps reduce fuel consumption

That said, considering the unapologetically unadorned cabin and profile of the Mitsubishi brand, you might be surprised that this top-spec Outlander is every bit as pricey as an equivalent Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4. Even with this much kit and capability, it probably shouldn’t be.

The best way to invest your money would be in the GX3 model, which comes with seven seats, Bluetooth and dual-zone climate control; it represents a sensible balance of cost and specification.

For fleet drivers, the Outlander is one of the lowest-emitting 4x4s on CO2, and particularly so against its rivals in automatic guise. And as you’d surmise, it’s frugal. Go touring in an automatic version and you'll probably return almost 45mpg, which is excellent for an automatic seven-seat SUV.

A day-to-day 40mpg would be easy to achieve; for the manual version, probably better.

VERDICT

3.5 star Mitsubishi Outlander

There’s room for a practical, functional car like the Mitsubishi Outlander in the family 4x4 market.

It can’t be a massively lucrative niche, but this Mitsubishi caters to it well. It’s a capable vehicle with appealing fuel efficiency, engine refinement, towing capacity and off-road ability.

Owners will be pleased by the strong residuals

Considered only within this niche, you could argue that the slightly lumpy ride and imprecise on-road handling when you ask a lot of the chassis could be forgiven.

And yet when similar-priced 4x4s approach their limits so much more tidily, we can’t overlook its dynamic limitations. In some situations, this Mitsubishi just isn’t as grippy, predictable or manageable – plain car-like, in other words – as the class standard.

That significant criticism, listed next to more minor ones about the derivative styling and mixed material quality, balances perfectly against its virtues for a mid-table overall rating.

Mitsubishi Outlander 2012-2015 First drives